Let’s talk about Neil Gaiman. The man is one of my favorite writers working today, constantly surprising and always entertaining. I was introduced to Gaiman’s work a few years back when Annie gave me a copy of Good Omens (written with Terry Pratchett) for a gift. I dived straight in, hooked by the witty dialogue and completely original take on Armageddon. Soon after I began reading most all of Gaiman’s work, then I found out about his comics.
Gaiman is best known as the creative force behind the epic Sandman series, you know, that series that’s won EVERY SINGLE AWARD comics has to offer, plus some. I read some of that series, and thought it quite exceptional as well, though much darker and more menacing than his novels. But I’m a superhero geek, and with a few exceptions (to be written about later) I really only go for the Marvel and DC kind of stuff. I admire all comics, from Ghost World type fiction to the true crime and spy stuff Bendis originally worked on (save it for next time). But give me the X-Men, Batman, all that stuff any day. I eat that shit right up.
So what I really want to talk about is Marvel 1602, Gaiman’s re imagining of the entire Marvel Universe set 400 years in the past. I really want to bring this up because Gaiman is reuniting with 1602 artist Andy Kubert for a Batman title coming out this month. “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” looks amazing, and with Kubert’s paints and Gaiman’s words, it may very well be the comic event of the year. So let’s look back on their earlier imaginings with Marvel 1602.
This cover for the hardback Graphic Novel perfectly sets the mood and tone for most of the book. The covers for all eight issues of the series, originally released seperately of course, took on that scratchboard and classic engraving look of many pieces of art from the 1600’s (an effect actually accomplished by artist Scott McKowen), while the panel art is more like a swash of paint and watercolor almost. It has the effect of being at once very life like and very stylized, especially when the superhero shit starts going down.
Gaiman begins with Dr. Stephen Strange and Sir Nicholas Fury, both characters instantly recognizable in this universe, and both major players in the story to come. Both are also in the service of the Queen, as this story naturally takes place in England. Remember, there was no America in 1602, duh.
The queen fears the world is ending, due to strange weather patterns and occurrences, so she enlists Strange as her master of medicines along with Fury, her personal “intelligencer” i.e. her bodyguard and all around ass kicker. Sounds about right. We follow these two throughout the story as they try to determine the causes of all of the disturbances in their world.
We are soon also introduced to the witchbreed, aka mutants. They are persecuted and hunted by the religious leaders of the time. We meet Angel as he is about to be burned at the stake, wings and all. He is sprung at the last minute by the other witchbreed, including Scotius Summerisle, and John (Jean) Grey. Get where this is going? Most of the other big names in the marvel cannon are also on hand: Daredevil, as a blind minstrel. Spiderman as Peter Parquagh, a young lad and Fury’s assistant. We hear of the legend of the Fantasticks, who gained powers on a mysterious voyage. And of the dread of Count Otto Von Doom. He’s the bad guy.
Through out the books, there are several plots all leading to one event, many characters interacting and being revealed in wonderful ways, and plenty of action in the classic Marvel sense. There are assassination attempts, winged warriors, and bizarre visitors from the New World, including a blond Native named Rojhaz. He looks awfully familiar…I can’t put my finger on it, but…
Oh. I get it. Nice.
But really, look at that art. I love how every character is rendered in this book. It’s amazing. Just look at these other examples…
This really is some of my favorite art in any book. The characters are given all those familiar traits and looks, but they seem to naturally fit in the universe regardless. Now, Thor being a God from Norse mythology, you don’t really need to change it up all that much, and Doom’s garb always looked a bit medieval to begin with, but reading the book, it’s never distracting or strange to see these characters pop in and out of the story. Everyone fills a place in the narrative.
Each character contributes to the story is their own way, and the revelations at the end actually sort of make sense. Its a bit of a stretch, with time travel and the space time continuum being ripped to shreds and all that, but I got it. I loved it. I want some more of it?
Well, I am in luck, since this new Batman story looks just as twisted and surreal as the Marvel 1602 series. Here is a loo kat the cover. Color me excited.